CAIB Says Flight Tests May Be Condition For Program
America's three surviving space shuttles very well
may return to flying missions for NASA. But first, they may have to
be flight-tested with modifications recommended by the
Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
The CAIB seems to be sending mixed signals about the possibility
of requiring test flights before Discovery, Atlantis and
Endeavour resume full-blown missions. CAIB Chairman, Harold
Gehman, Jr. (Adm., USN, retired), contradicted those board members
advocating test flights, saying, test flights are unlikely, but
would be conducted "if we think that's what it takes."
What Would A Shuttle Test Flight Entail?
Gehman wouldn't say what criteria would have to be met during a
shuttle test flight, should such demonstrations be required. But if
you harken back to the early 1980s, you'll recall that
Columbia's first four flights were considered tests,
carrying only two astronauts instead of its full compliment of
CAIB investigators say there will almost certainly be strong
recommendations for closer, more prudent inspections of shuttle
spacecraft between flights. Columbia was on its 28th
mission when it disintegrated 60,000 feet over Texas and Louisiana,
killing all seven astronauts onboard, Feb. 1. Investigators are
also considering the possibility of recertifying some parts on the
20-something year old shuttles, given evidence of wear and tear -
in some cases, which was unexpected.
Going To DC To Wrap It Up
and the other 12 members of the CAIB are slowly heading back to
Washington after visits to the debris field in East Texas, as well
as NASA's Houston and Canaveral facilities. In Washington, they'll
sit down to write an exhaustive report on the Columbia
tragedy. Gehman says he expects the final document will be a "very,
very thick report." You can expect that very, very thick report
will contain some harsh criticisms of NASA's use of outside
contractors, like Boeing, to take over tasks that had been reserved
for space agency personnel. That, says Brig. Gen. Duane Deal
(USAF), means NASA doesn't know what it can't see for itself.
"There are a few things that NASA is not laying their eyes on that
are critical ones ... and we believe that they should be laying
their eyes upon all those crit-one items." Deal said no one
interviewed in the Columbia investigation - "from line technicians
all the way through management" - was happy with the way shuttle
inspections were conducted. Nor, he said, were they pleased with
the number of inspections between shuttle flights.